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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr REID (Holt) (2:48 AM) - 1 wish to make a few general observations on this Bill which I am sure will be welcomed by most dairy farmers who are in needy circumstances. However, I would like to have a few words to say, firstly, about the product - that is milk. I have often said that milk is nature's purest food. It has stood the test of time. Why people would want to replace it with a substitute I just cannot imagine. Milk is almost as essential to a growing child today as is the air he breathes. When one sees children who are deficient in animal protein, it makes one realise how fortunate we are in this country where milk and milk products are in plentiful supply. In many developing countries two-thirds of children die because of lack of animal protein. As I have mentioned in this House previously, if you take 20 children in a developing country, 10 die in infancy and 7 out of the remaining 10 are stunted mentally and physically for life because of malnutrition in childhood. Only 3 out of 20 escape the ravages of hunger. To me it appears to be a great tragedy that we are curtailing the production of milk in this country whilst it is so urgently needed in so many Asian countries. When one considers the price of milk today, which is 10 to 11 cents a pint, depending on the State in which you live, and compares it with the price of a bottle of soft drink, which is 15c, or a bottle of beer, which is 40c, it is out of all proportion when one considers the nutritional value of milk. The price of a pint of milk should be 25c at least. This is the true value of milk in relation to soft drink. If this price were paid butter subsidies could be substantially reduced.

I will not attempt to go into the cost of production, but as most people know cows have to be milked twice a day, once in the early hours of the morning and again late at night, 7 days a week. Some people say thai if the price of milk were raised the demand would fall. However, this is not the case where soft drink and beer are concerned. Prices are increased but this does not have much effect on any increase in other commodities. People accept regular price rises in most commodities which could be included as essential goods. But today people do not so readily accept price rises for the essentials, such as butter, milk, bread and doctors' fees. Perhaps if people realised the health benefit of milk in relation to the other products I have mentioned, they would be prepared to pay a higher price. After all, farmers' costs have greatly increased over the years. Not only is milk worth 25c compared with these other commodities I have mentioned, but the farmer needs this amount today if he is to meet rising costs which is one of the difficulties many of them are confronted with. No dairy farmer who milks under 50 or 60 cows can afford permanent labour on his farm.

Dairy farming over the years has been mainly a family effort. That is, each member of the family takes his place in the cowshed. I suppose the days are gone when children had to milk cows before they went off to school but in many dairy farms it is still a family effort that gets them by. Farm equipment has also greatly increased the overhead on dairy farms. The farmer who milks 50 cows cannot afford very much farm equipment. He could possibly afford a tractor, a plough, a set of harrows, etc., but then he would need to get a good utilisation out of this equipment. On the larger farms where there are over 60 cows to be milked - and when I say '60 cows' I am referring to dairy farms in West Gippsland - labour can be employed and additional farm equipment, such as harvesting equipment and irrigation equipment, can be purchased. All these things assist in putting farming on a more profitable basis. In my opinion one of the greatest factors in farm costs is that few farmers today grow sufficient crops even though they have the machinery available. I would say that at least one-third of farmers' overhead costs in the western Gippsland area is represented in the purchase of fodder. If all farmers on marginal farms grew their own crops marginal farms would be on a more profitable basis.

There is also the problem of diverse weather conditions. If a property is without irrigation it means that during a dry autumn additional fodder may have to be purchased if no silage is available, and I have no hesitation in saying that rising costs and the purchase of fodder are the 2 major reasons why marginal dairy farms are in financial difficulties. I know the Department of Agriculture in Victoria has always encouraged farmers to grow more crops. However, it has been difficult to have plans implemented when they can go along and purchase their fodder from the store. Whilst, I suppose, the main factor in this legislation is to enable the marginal farmer to dispose of his dairy farm because of his limited acreage and for economic reasons, increased acreage in itself is not the answer. On many farms close to Melbourne - and many of these properties have been long established as dairy farms - it is becoming uneconomic to raise cattle because of high rates and taxes and because the farms have to compete with the local industries for employees. A more economic way is to bale feed the animals and grow crops.

Dairy cattle are stabled in most European countries, in north America and in Asian countries such as Taiwan, the Philippines, Ceylon and Pakistan. In the main cattle in many of these Asian countries are stabled in long concrete sheds and the farmers have been able to obtain very good production from them even in a place like New Delhi where temperatures are very high. Some cows there have been producing up to 95 lb of milk a day and in many other centres they are giving between 40 and 50 lb of milk a day. But many of these farms are quite small. I recall visiting one of 100 acres in Hong Kong. All the cattle there, 1,200 of them, were stabled and a big percentage of the fodder was- grown on this 100-acre area. It is quite an economic proposition to stable animals providing the fodder is grown on the property. I would like to see the Departments of Agriculture in some States encourage the stabling of dairy cattle in order to obtain a better utilisation of acreage. The economics of it all must surely be to grow more fodder on the farm, and the point I am making here is that there is room in the dairying industry today for the small efficient dairy farm provided animals are stabled and crops are grown on the property. It is generally recognised, however, that there is a serious economic problem within the dairy industry particularly in the case of producers relying on the sale of milk or cream for manufacturing purposes. I think it is a sound move on the part of the Commonwealth and State governments to bring into existence a marginal dairy farm reconstruction scheme whereby dairy farmers whose farms have insufficient potential to become economic units may dispose voluntarily of their land and improvements to the State at market value. For those reasons I commend the legislation to the House.

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